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House GOP appropriators set to unveil new earmark restrictions

Leaders of two Appropriations subcommittees, Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services, won't allow earmarks in their fiscal 2024 spending bills

Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., chairs the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., chairs the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans will bar earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services appropriations bills, senior appropriators who oversee those bills confirmed Tuesday. 

Reps. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee “cardinal,” and Steve Womack, R-Ark., the Financial Services subcommittee chairman, said their bills will not include earmarks under new rules expected to be unveiled this week to govern the fiscal 2024 process. CQ Roll Call reported the tentative decision earlier.

Appropriators are encouraging members to focus their earmark requests on four main areas: infrastructure, water, economic development and public safety. And members will be required to prove a “federal nexus” for their projects under the new guidelines, sources familiar with the coming guidance say. 

Other changes are expected to include some additional eligibility for earmarks in the Agriculture bill for rural water projects in sparsely populated communities, provided some matching funds come from nonfederal sources. And some rail safety and maritime accounts in the Transportation-HUD bill may become eligible for earmarks, according to people familiar with the new rules.

The deadlines for members to submit their earmark requests will be staggered bill by bill but are expected to wrap up by the end of March.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, declined to comment Tuesday on the earmark rule changes ahead of the official rollout.

A number of earmarks in the fiscal 2023 omnibus in the Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services bills caught the attention of Republicans and conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation. Specifically, conservative concern over LGBTQ and transgender services-related projects led the two bills to be targeted, sources said.

Aderholt said the new limitation is part of an effort by appropriators to get members of their conference to support spending bills. 

“I think the bottom line is that we have a lot of our members that are very concerned about some of the abuses that have happened in earmarks in the past, especially when they really find it a stretch from the federal nexus,” he said. “And I think [Labor-HHS-Education] had more of those than any of the other appropriations bills.” 

‘Mixed feelings’

The Labor-HHS-Education bill in the fiscal 2023 omnibus included $2.7 billion in earmarks, second only to the Transportation-HUD measure, which had $5.6 billion. The Financial Services bill had the second lowest tally of the bills that accepted earmarks, with $230 million total. 

Womack said he supports eliminating earmarks from the Financial Services measure but is worried that the new restrictions are a step toward eliminating the process. 

“I personally think we need to narrow the scope, but I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. “I have serious concerns that this is a step in the direction of total elimination. And if that is the case, we should resist that.” 

Some House conservatives, led by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., pushed for an earmark ban when Republicans were considering their conference rules last fall. But the Republican conference overwhelmingly rejected a rule change that would bar earmarks in a 52-158 vote in November. 

Womack said he has “mixed feelings” about the Labor-HHS-Education ban, but said he is OK with that decision if it is what is needed to maintain earmarks in other bills, such as Agriculture and Transportation-HUD. 

“If we’re going to take some titles out of the running, I’m fine with mine being one of them,” he said. “I think we’ve got to be careful on which others we take out, because there are some titles that have a legitimate purpose in congressionally directed spending.” 

House Republicans are searching for any potential spending cuts they can find as they write fiscal 2024 appropriations bills at the fiscal 2022 topline that Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., promised holdouts of his speakership bid. Appropriators will have to cut $130 billion from current levels to meet that promise. 

The fiscal 2023 omnibus included $15.3 billion in earmarks, a major increase over the $9 billion included in the fiscal 2022 omnibus in the first year the process returned. 

Senate and House Democrats brought back earmarks during the fiscal 2022 appropriations process, with increased transparency rules, after a decadelong ban. 

Those rules include a cap at 1 percent of federal spending; a ban on for-profit recipients; a requirement of members to post requests online; and a mandate for the Government Accountability Office to audit a sample of enacted earmarks.  

The Senate rolled out its earmark regulations earlier this month, keeping the same guardrails the chamber had in place last year. The deadlines for requests in that chamber are in late March and early April. 

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.